“I believe one must do good in the world,” says David William Foster, Regents’ Professor of Latin American urban cultures and gender studies at Arizona State University. “I do good in the world because good was done to me.”
After scholarship funds put him through college and opened up a world of possibilities, Foster is committed to doing the same for other deserving students. He gives annually and generously to support scholarships and awards for students in hopes of transforming Spanish and Portuguese studies at ASU.
“When students come up to thank me for an award, I tell them all to not forget to give back when they are in a position to do so in the course of their careers,” he says. “That’s what is most important to me.”
Growing up in Seattle, Foster’s mother came from a prosperous family while his father was a product of the Great Depression. His father owned a garage, but died at a young age, leaving Foster, his mother and two sisters in a Seattle public housing project for low-income families.
Foster began studying Spanish at the age of 9, which ultimately led to his interest in Latin American cultures. After World War II, Foster grew conscientious of his need for a university education and used money he received from the government and university scholarships to attend the University of Washington in pursuit of his dreams.
Foster completed all studies from undergraduate through his doctoral degree in six years, which he believes wouldn’t have been possible had he not received the support he did. A few years after earning his doctorate, Foster moved his studies to ASU.
He arrived in 1966 and is now in his 46th year at ASU. As a result of the successful doctoral program in Spanish he helped create, Foster funded a scholarship to assist students working toward their doctorate in Spanish, which he sustains through monthly installments and payroll deductions.
“I’ve given all incoming doctoral students startup money to buy books, supplies and other necessities,” Foster says. “I especially help students who are on a tight budget. I want these students to succeed no matter what, because they will be the ones to pass along the teaching of cultures that remain understudied in the U.S.”
Additionally, Foster has established a Portuguese award, which annually recognizes a doctoral student in Portuguese-language courses, and the Latin American Literature Award, which is dedicated to the doctoral student with the best published article in Latin American studies. Foster always supports campus diversity with an undergraduate award presented to the best graduating Latino senior every year.
Foster’s most important award is a summer stipend offered every year to one or two graduate students doing advanced doctoral research and/or fieldwork for their dissertations. This award is open across campus to any doctoral student in Latin American studies.
Foster was motivated by the financial support he received as a college student to continue his contributions to ASU and UW through estate gifts. He exemplifies a motto and lifestyle that encourages everyone to give back.
“I just want students to succeed and pass on their knowledge of Latin American studies,” Foster says. “No matter what background they come from.”